Friday, November 20, 2009
Thoughts after reading Out There Somewhere by Simon Ortiz…
Ortiz is an Acoma Pueblo poet. We kind of like his stuff, though we don’t understand half of it. There is still a certain cadence and rhythm to his writing that is appealing. And he tells some good stories.
He is not an absurd man, though this does not prevent him from stumbling on absurdity now and then. All poets, it seems, take an oath to awareness of a kind… the shimmer of a lake, the veins in a leaf, the wrinkles in an old man’s face, the gleam in a new mother’s eyes… they notice all manner of things, even things of a seemingly trivial nature.
Nonetheless, reading Ortiz made us wonder. He is very much wrapped up in his Native American identity. He identifies very strongly with the culture of the Acoma Pueblo.
As we are Americans of European descent, we can only imagine what it must be like to grow up on an Indian reservation… what it must be like to be part of a people so trampled on in history. Ortiz has obviously endured many slights and insults. He has seen the darker side of life on the Res… the alcohol and the drugs, the poverty, the frustrations.
To some degree, then, we sympathize with Ortiz. He is not always bitter or angry. His message is more one of hope in a resistance, in a creative struggle, to maintain his people’s identity.
But we wonder if attaching oneself so powerfully to an identity also blinds one to the absurdity of it all. We think it must, whether we invest our sense of self into a political party or a religion or an ethnic group.
Can one be dethatched, or enjoy that sense of equanimity that the absurd man covets if one is so invested in these groups?
Neither of us – Rick or Inigo – cultivates particularly strong attachments in this way. We do not “live through our children” as so many parents do, stressing out over every little failure or celebrating every little triumph. We are not loyal to any political party, in fact we no longer vote. We do not visit church, or the temple or the synagogue.
I suppose it is possible one could be loyal to a group and yet remain an absurd man, knowing nothing matters. We had a friend who was a devout Catholic. He went to church every Sunday. He was otherwise so rational and scientific. Once we asked him how he squared his work in science with his faith. He replied “I just like the pageantry of religion.” That phrase has stuck with us. He just liked it for its own sake, but put no special meaning on it.
Perhaps, then, one can remain part of a group like this and yet remain aware of the greater absurdity of existence, its meaninglessness and ultimate end in death.
In any event, we wish Ortiz well on his journey. And we thank him for a couple of hours of pleasurable reading. But for us, we think it is unwise to lean so heavily on identification with a group (of any kind) to find peace and contentment. That peace and contentment is within each of us, as the old sages - and the absurd men - have long known.
Posted by Inigo Montoya at 2:44 PM